Together We Achieve More: MKC Matches Growth with Investment in Kansas Agriculture

Posted October 27, 2015

Pooling resources to achieve better results than could be accomplished individually is the reason many cooperatives formed. That goal is one which Mid Kansas Cooperative Association (MKC), one of the nation’s largest agricultural cooperatives, has abided by since its inception.

MKC formed in 1964 through the merger of three smaller cooperatives: Buhler Cooperative Association, Moundridge Cooperative Elevator Association and the Farmers Cooperative Association in Groveland.

“Reading the minutes from that time is fascinating,” said MKC President and CEO Dave Christiansen. “Discovering the intent and insight of the founding directors of this cooperative has had an impact on who and what we are today.”

Since its beginning, Christiansen said MKC has focused on seeking growth daily. But, he clarified that MKC’s growth strategy is evaluated and re-tooled regularly by the organization’s board, keeping the cooperative focused on improving services for members.  

“The founding directosr’ vision was very clear, stating that merging the original three co-ops together and continued growth was projected to be good for the cooperative and its membership. The vision they had has been proven to be right,” said Christiansen.

Matching Farmer Productivity with Investment

Today, MKC ranks in the top cooperatives in the United States. In October 2015, USDA listed MKC as the 69th largest agricultural cooperative based on total business volume and total assets in 2014. This includes the addition of more than 18 million bushels in storage capacity in the last five years, not including the high-speed train loader in Canton which will have 8 million bushels in storage capacity when completed in spring 2016. Christiansen said the Canton shuttle-loader, built in partnership with CHS, provides growers with new access to the export market.

In addition to infrastructure, Christiansen said MKC is working to match farmers’ productivity advancements with services offered.

“In an effort to match the speed of our growers in all aspects of their business, we have invested in handling speed and space at many grain locations,” Christiansen said. “Our agronomy centers including aerial service have also been upgraded to match the producesr’ needs and our energy department has received significant investments as well.”

Christiansen listed additional risk management services including input financing, crop insurance, 28 unique grain contracting, precision ag, double crop revenue programs and 12-month input forward contracting.

However, Christiansen pointed out that one of the biggest benefits of continued growth is the ability to invest in staff resources. He said MKC is heavily invested in staff, including internship programs and employee development.

“Growth has helped us attract, develop and retain a very talented workforce by giving them plenty of opportunities,” he said. “Membership also benefits from having expertise on staff that we could not provide when we were a smaller cooperative.”

Services Available for All Sizes

Although MKC may be one of the largest agricultural cooperatives in the United States, its membership represents a cross-section of the agricultural community.

“We are fortunate to serve members who choose to farm a few acres to many thousands of acres,” said Christiansen. “In fact, roughly 70 percent of our members would be considered small producers, less than 1,000 acres.”

For the rest of MKC’s membership, Christiansen reported just 5 percent of members farm more than 3,000 acres and the remaining 25 percent farm somewhere in between. He added that MKC has added more than 200 members a year each of the past six years.

“Part of our growth has been driven by our ability to meet the customer’s needs regardless of how many acres they choose to farm,” he said. “We get up every day with the intent of making our farmers more successful and people seem to like that.”

A Culture of Community Success

Christiansen pointed out that with the cooperative model, MKC’s success contributes to the vitality of the rural communities it serves, unlike other business types.

“Cooperatives need to take the lead and not be outspent by others who are not as concerned with preserving rural America,” he said. “Direct investment in our communities is certainly vital whether it is property taxes, utilities, personnel expenses or other expenses that we pay that benefit the community directly.”

Christiansen said MKC paid more than $32 million in 2014 in rural community support. Additionally, he explained MKC has employees living in 79 different communities where many are actively involved as coaches, Sunday school teachers, 4-H leaders and more. Christiansen also said MKC has donated more than $300,000 in the past five years to local communities as well as $29.5 million in cash redemptions to growers over the last 10 years.

“The cooperative business model is perfect for rural American and has stood the test of time,” he said. “If not for people banding together for the common good, there would be many services that would be hard to come by in areas that have a lower population.”

In the future, Christiansen said cooperatives must continue their mission of adapting to customer expectations.

“As farmers can plant and harvest quicker, they expect their supplier to meet their speed. Our growth has to match our customesr’ or we get left behind,” said Christiansen. “Our founding directors had it right…focus on helping the farmer be successful and you will have a lasting business.”

By Julia Debes